Lake Brunner is just a little detour from Arthur's Pass on the way to the West Coast. Moana, the main town which is nestled at the northern end of the lake, is just 35kms south-east of Greymouth. The TranzAlpine train stops there.
Although many holiday homes are mushrooming in Moana, the lake still has a relaxing atmosphere. Apart from the typical water sports you can make wonderful bushwalks there, and you will see many native birds and tree species, even orchids, mosses and ferns. Anglers say the lake is one of the best in the South Island for brown trout. There is also a boat hire for kayaks and canadians, fishing dinghies, motor and sailboats.
The Station House (opposite the Railway Station) is a really nice café and restaurant where they bake fresh and have other very good food, too - which is especially nice after one of the walks. And it has great views of the lake.
All walks around Moana are easy and vary from 20 minutes to 2 hours. So not really a big deal.
The Rakaitane Track (45mins return) leads over a swing bridge over the Arnold River outlet of the lake. Many trees are signposted, so you can try to learn something about the native flora. If you turn left at the swing bridge you get on to the Lake Side Walk (20 to 60 mins return). There is a picknick spot and a swing rope for kids.
The Bain Bay Track (2 hours return) offers great views of the lake and leads over board walks through native bush. At Bain Bay you will find relics of timber mills - plus picknick area and toilet. Access from the lake side in front of Lake Brunner Lodge in Mitchells at the southern end of the lake.
The Carew Falls Track (1 hour return) includes a moderate climb and finally leads onto the rocks below the falls. Same access point as Bain Bay Track.
On the way to Greymouth, make a little detour to historic Blackball.
Before I had ever visited Blackball or read about it in a travel guide it was already familiar to me. I had heard about it on TV several times and read about it in the newspaper for weeks. Obviously a released sex-offender and child predator had moved to Blackball. When the inhabitants knew about it, they raised posters and camped opposite his property until he gave up and moved out and left again.
Blackball is a small and lonesome place, with 370 inhabitants including 30-40 children. During one hour we saw one other person in the streets, and this was a tourist.
Not only because of the above mentioned story the people of Blackball are a unique bunch of people. Commuters, hippies and also some strange people live there in harmony. They call it the "New Wave".
The most famous building is the "Formerly The Blackball Hilton". It is a basic but lovely two-storey character building of the glory days of gold mining. It is an original old West Coast pub and was once the "Blackball Hilton" but it is no more allowed to carry its original name because the Hilton hotel chain had something against it. It is run by three ladies and offers Bed & Breakfast (NZ$ 55pp) or dinner, bed and breakfast (/NZ$ 90pp - Jan. 2007).
The second famous thing about Blackball is its salami factory near the hotel.
The third thing is its history. The 370 people strong community is a former gold and coal mining place and the birthplace of militant socialism. It had New Zealand's longest (and illegal) strike which lasted 10 weeks in 1908. The Red Feds and Federation of Labour and New Zealand's Labour party evolved from this action. Even NZ's Communist Party once moved its headquarters to Blackball.
When the gold and coal mines had been closed in 1964, the influx of the already cited hippies and holiday makers secured the survival of Blackball.
One of the tourist activities - apart from walking and swimming - is possum hunting...
On the way from Lake Brunner to Greymouth, turn left and then right again after the township of Stillwater.
If you didn't stop off at Hokitiki and need a break from the road traveling to Franz Josef Glacier, pull over at Lake Mahinapua Scenic Reserve - about 10km south of Hokitiki. The inland lake offers a few short walks and the Mahinapua Walkway, lots of ferns, podocarp and hardwood species, as well as black swans and ducks.
There is a campsite for those wishing to stay overnight and kayaking opportunities.
Take a short detour on SH67, which becomes Cape Foulwind Rd, and turn right into Lighthouse Rd, which will bring you to panoramic Cape Foulwind Clifftop views. If you're keen for a stroll, tramp from the car park along the clifftop to the Cape Foulwind seal colony. If not, return the way you've driven and turn right into Tauranga Bay Rd and right into Coast Rd, which will bring you to a car park and an easy stroll to view the seals.
The female NZ fur seals lives at the colony all their life and give birth late November.
Somehow it comes as a surprise why the coal-mining town of Reefton is "The Town of Light". Although it is not a real centre of attention, on the way to the West Coast via Lewis Pass (and Hanmer Springs), in 1888 this old gold mining town was the first place in the southern hemisphere to have public supply of hydro-electric power.
I read on their info site that it was lit before London in New York but in other publications I read that it was lit six years after Thomas Edison's company had started to light the streets of New York. Anyway, you would still not have expected Reefton having been such a boomtown, with its quiet atmosphere and 1000 inhabitans today.
The big gold rush started when they found gold-bearing quartz reefs in the hills above Black's Point, 2kms east of Reefton. You can visit this place, thousands of photos, equipment, maps and more are displayed in the museum, and a water-powered gold battery has been rebuilt.
Many of the heritage buildings still exist, like the School of Mines, the Courthouse, Oddfellows Hall and the Catholic Church, and some shops on Broadway. The Miners Hut on Broadway is a replica in which some bearded guys show visitors how miners lived in the 19th century.
Another thing I really like about Reefton is the fabulous Visitor Centre which has great displays of history, nature and wildlife.
The Visitor Centre also arranges visits to the School of Mines and to the Miners Hut, and you can get a brochure for a historic walk.
Reefton is also great nature walks in the Victoria Conservation Park, which is NZ's largest conservation park, centred on the Victoria and Brunner Ranges with the Inangahua, Maruia and Grey Rivers making their way through the beech forests. The area is fabulous for birdwatching. If you are lucky you will spot kea, kaka, red- and yellow-crowned parakeets, and spotted kiwis call at night. There are also some good mountainbike tracks.
Update 20 January 2009
On my last visit I saw on the sign at Black Points Museum that it is obviously now open year round (previously only from late October until mid April).
The days and hours have not changed:
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Sunday 9am-12noon, 1pm-4pm.
Photo 2 gives an impression of Reefton's main street.
On photo 3 you see that even the public toilets remind you of the town's history-making past.
I list this little walk under Off the Beaten Path because no one would ever visit the township of Fox Glacier just for this. Everybody comes to walk on or to the glacier, so first heads to the booking office, does his glacier tourism, and if time allows, heads to nearby Lake Matheson and hope to get mirror views of the Southern Alps' highest peaks.
I discovered the walk when strolling around to kill an hour of waiting for my husband who had work to do at Fox.
The walk starts right at the southern end of the township and is clearly indicated. It is just a 20 minutes walk - but it took me longer as I took so many photos and met a nice old local lady with whom I had a nice chat about life on the remote West Coast and the stress of shopping in the city malls on Sunday ;-) She was the only person I met. When I went a loop the second time (to show it to my husband) we met a jogger. Also a local. So you cannot say this little part of the rainforest is a main tourist destination.
The walk makes you feel like in a fairy-tale forest. Large old trees covered in moss, lichen and tiny ferns, lots and lots of strangler plants sitting on host trees and slowly killing them, an incredible variety of ferns, low plants and high tree ferns, strangely meandering tree trunks you can use like caves, a little creek bubbling to the melody of the birds greeting you from the canopies and branches. Just wonderful.
Try to understand how many leaves a plant named Five Finger and Seven Finger has. The Five Finger ranges from three to five leaves, so can also have four, and the Seven Finger varies from five to nine. But who knows if a plant with five leaves is a Five Finger or a Seven Finger? (see photos 4 and 5)
Have a little break there and deserve your coffee you can take in one of the nice cafés of Fox Glacier Village after the walk.
You would not call Lake Kaniere, 18kms south-east of Hokitika, picturesque. But it is a great inland lake for water activities like jet-skiing and boating, and also a lot of anglers are seen there.
The other great activity is walking. The lake is surrounded by rather flat tracks which are good to stay active but no big challenges. The Lake Kaniere Walkway (3-4 hrs one way) leads along the western side of the lake. If you do not want to make a return walk of 25kms and travel with more than one car, just park one at the end of the track, and then shuttle back.
Shorter walks are the Mt. Tuhua Track and the super short Canoe Cove Walk, both on the eastern side of the lake. The road passes directly at the delightful Dorothy Falls.
Another nice walk is the Kaniere Water Race Walkway which starts at the northern end of the lake and leads along a canal which once provided the gold diggers with water. This walk is slightly hilly (100m change of altitude) and 9kms one way, this would take you approximately 3hrs.
At Lake Kaniere you also find simple campgrounds.
They call it "The West Coast's Best Kept Secret" and a secluded haven. And sure - this place is never inundated with tourists. There are no visitors who just have a quick look, and the reason is clear: Karamea is the last town in the North of the West Coast, at the end of the road... Ok... There are some more kilometres of road North of Karamea which leads to the Kohaihai River and the start/end of the Heaphy Track and to some great walks and caves, and this is even called highway... But Karamea, the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park, is always a detour from any trip around the South Island. Exactly: 98km from Westport. One way.
There is nice accommodation - we love the Bridge Farm Motels so much that we have never tried any other - and good food at the unique Karamea Village Hotel, and the General Store is a place of its own. There is nearly nothing you cannot get there, incredible! Also transport to and from the big tracks (Heaphy and Wangapeka).
A great one day activity is to walk the start of the Heaphy Track, leading to superb white beaches like Scott's Beach, and back. Right at the start after the swing bridge is the Nikau Walk which abounds of NZ's only native palmtree. The rivers are orange from decomposing bark.
Fabulous drives up narrow winding gravel roads (can be dangerous in heavy rain) in the Oparara Basin through lush rainforest, to the Box Canyon and Crazy Paving Caves, Mirror Tarn, Oparara Arch, Fenian Track and Caves etc. Restricted access to Honeycomb Hill Arch and Caves (guided tours only). Tramping can become difficult after long rain but not after showers. Great bird watching in the estuaries.
Believe it or not: The rainforest feeling is best in light rain or right after the rain. Absolutely magic!
But drive OR look: The guys who live at the bottom of the road to the Oparara Arch have to pull tourist cars back to the road all the time!
Coal mining has always been a big issue on the West Coast, and still locals who live from the industry hate people who want to stop coal mining and instead - that is the actual hot topic - save the live of snails and Happy Valley. Coal mining is the Coast's life artery, so arguments heat up fast, and it can happen that some environmentalist's letter box explodes or a stones fly through the windows.
On the plateau over the West Coast, near Westport, they did coal mining for 88 years until 1967 (and still in some few sites today). Then Denniston had 2000 inhabitants, now it is similar to the ghost towns of the gold rush, although a handful of residents live up there.
The old mines are closed, and the coal-trucks, rails and tools of the productive era are rusting. There is nothing left of the sheds of the miners and their families, just some remains of the Ropers Hotel and the bathhouse. Only the fan house is not damaged at all.
Denniston is north of Westport, the right turn from HW67 in Waimangaroa is indicated. Already on the way up the hill you have great views of the Coast and the ocean. On the top of the hill there is a left turn to the main carpark which is dominated by a huge red wheel and a railway truck in which once the coal was transported down the steep Incline to the coast, from 600 metres above sea level to sea level. The coal-trucks used the weight of the descending loaded trucks to lift the empties on the cableway back up the hill.
Here are interesting information boards and a map of the area. A walk which leads around the former housing area and some working sites starts here.
You get around by car but I enjoyed very much to cycle around on the plateau, which was very practical at the Coalbrookvale Walk to the bath house and the fan house (approx. 1km). This fan house was a great piece of engineering. It blew fesh air into the mine shafts.
As there are some working sites on the plateau a coal truck might cross your path from time to time, otherwise it is absolutely quiet up there.
Already the way to the starting point of this coastal walk (3.5 to 4 hrs return) is an adventure of its own. About 12kms of the 21kms from Fox Village - right after a fantastic and unexpected viewing point of Fox Glacier - lead through native bush on a narrow and winding gravel road, with oncoming campervans on your side...
Gillespies Beach is a former gold mining site, and in the 1930's and 40's they even found uranium. Today there is a little miners' cemetery, the old dredge, some houses, an informal campground and a wild stretch of beach.
The first stretch of the walk between high gorse parallel to the beach is not exciting. Before a gold-mining site (not worth a look) turn left to the beach and then walk north. When you reach orange waters flowing into the sea and wonder how to cross it LOL turn right and walk along the "river". Soon you will be at the centre of Gillespies Lagoon which you cross on a boardwalk. The lagoon looks wonderful and strange, somehow tropical although the trees are clearly native.
Now you walk in the forest. A little detour to a former goldmining access tunnel is well worth the effort; from the other end you have a sea view, it is like standing on the balcony of a castle above the ocean.
The track then becomes rougher, and it can be muddy and covered with a lot of puddles even in best weather conditions. There are a lot of rocks and wooden boards and tree trunks to avoid too much sinking into the mud. So the walking clearly gets tougher, and you do not get forward as fast as on the first half of the track, although the topography is no steady up and down. At the end you walk down a steep incline towards Galway Beach, and finally have to climb down some stairs through gorse-infested bush which are more like ladders, climb over some rocks, and there you are - mostly alone on Galway Beach.
This beach is famous for its seal colony. When I was there they seemed to have been on a holiday or feeding somewhere else but I enjoyed the peace and remoteness of the place very much.
This is a nice little walk of 1 to 1.5hrs return. The destination - Lake Wombat - is idyllic but not very spectacular although it offers mirror views of the surrounding bush. But the walk is so pleasant because it leads through wonderful rainforest with lots of ferns and moss-covered rimu trees along a very comfortable track, and you can watch a lot of birds.
At certain times of the year, especially when the fuchsia trees are in bloom, there are more tuis than you would believe. They fly around your ears, and feed on the nectar of the flowers. Their loud and beautiful song accompanied me on the whole walk. The tuis which belong to the honeyeater-family like the bellbird, are easily recognisable, their plumage is black to metallic green, and they have two white tufts under the beak. They are rather big birds, and make quite some noise with their wings.
The first part of the walk is identical with the Alex Knob Track which then turns left. This is a big walk into subalpine terrain which can take 8hrs return and offers spectacular views of glaciers, mountains and seascapes.
The way to the walk(s): From Franz Josef township turn left after the bridge into the glacier access road, after 2kms there is a clearly signposted carpark on the right side of the road.
58 Cron Street, Franz Josef, 7952, New Zealand
Good for: Business
The staff was very friendly and helpful! The rooms were big, comfortable, and clean with a good...more
State Highway 6, 30 km north of Haast, Lake Moeraki, South Island, 7842, New Zealand
Good for: Business